If there is one food that is good any day, any time, it's wings. Wings always sound appetizing to me. With an empty stomach, (slightly) full wallet and a craving for wings, I checked out Wood N Hog, Billy Barooz, San Maru, Sakanaya, and Black Dog.
Wood N Hog is a small barbecue spot located in a neighborhood in Champaign (you can read Smile Politely's review here). After having eaten there I can completely understand why it's quickly becoming a popular choice. Although I was tempted to order some of the turkey tips that I’ve heard so much about, I stuck to the task at hand and ordered four wings ($5.69). It took little to no time for the kind woman working to get my order ready for me, so that was certainly a plus. Upon opening the brown bag, I found my four large wings sitting on of a bed of fries (surprise!) and covered in sauce.
The wings were large, they had the absolute perfect crisp to the skin with a thin breading. The sauce on them tasted wonderful — it tasted tangy and sweet with just a small touch of spice. The wings were indeed large, and at first I was afraid it would be a lot of breading, but I was beyond wrong. These wings were loaded with juicy, moist meat. I will definitely be back to try the turkey tips and amazing selection of side dishes.
Black Dog, a very well-known and well-loved barbecue spot in town, is rumored to have some amazing wings. The wings are smoked and then deep fried, and covered in Carolina Red BBQ sauce. The wings came in a quantity of 6, served with celery and delicious blue cheese all priced reasonably at $5.95. The wings were about average size, but the flavor was far above average. Upon biting into the wings I was first greeted with thick, moist meat and then a slightly sweet taste from the sauce, followed quickly after by a slightly spicy kick and a nice smoky finish. These were very well done wings; the edges had a perfect crunch as I bit into the skin. The blue cheese served alongside the wings, although not the star of the dish, was also very good. The thing I appreciated the most from these wings was the minimal amount of sauce that was still packed with delicious flavor.
If you like bar food, Billy Barooz is definitely a happening spot to check out. When I think bar food, I instantly think wings, so of course this would be one of my stops. The wings come in 10 or 20 count orders and in a variety of flavors including mild and Jamaican Jerk, with your choice of dipping sauce. I ordered the 10 count BBQ wings with ranch; the final price came to about $11. I must admit that the smell upon picking up my order made it very difficult not to tear into these while driving home. The wings appeared to be average wing size and covered in a healthy amount of delicious smelling BBQ sauce. The sauce was sweet with hints of honey and a nice tang from the vinegar. There was a nice chew to the wings while maintaining moist meat that was tender enough to easily leave the bone. These wings left nothing more to be desired from an order of chicken wings; well done, Billy Barooz.
San Maru is a pleasant and cozy Korean restaurant tucked away in Southwest Champaign's Village at the Crossing complex. I was surprised to see wings on their menu, but I just had to try them after hearing wonderful things about the rest of the menu. Wings come in either 6, 10, or 20 pieces; I opted for the 6 piece and chose homemade teriyaki instead of spicy sauce ($9, with tax). The wings came tightly wrapped in aluminum foil with a small container of what I believe to have been Kimchi. These wings had such an amazing crunch to them: the batter was deep fried in what tasted like peanut oil and gave the most satisfying sound as I bit into them. I really appreciated the amount of sauce on these wings; it was very minimal which allowed the true flavor of the wings to shine through. The wings were slightly above average size with a significant amount of meat on the bones. The teriyaki sauce was just right in terms of salty and sweet taste. I would love to stop in and try the spicy sauce next.
Sakanaya was my last stop for this wing tasting adventure. Sakanaya is a very popular restaurant on Green Street in Campustown that is mostly recognized for the sushi selection. Much like the rest of the restaurants, wings come in orders of 6, 12, or 20, with flavor choices of hot & spicy, soy garlic, or half and half. I opted for the 6-piece order with soy garlic which was priced comparatively at around $9 with tax. The order was ready very quickly which was nice, and they were certainly freshly made. The wings were also minimally sauced (which is always an attractive trait for wings, in my opinoin) and they were topped with sesame seeds for a nice finish. The wings had a thick shell of crispy batter with a deliciously salty and garlic packed sauce covering them. They were about average size with a decent amount of meat on them; the meat to batter ratio was pretty even. If crispy wings with a savory sauce is your ideal wing, this is the stop for you.
This may only be a handful of spots in Champaign-Urbana serving up wings but it certainly is a delicious handful at that. No matter which of these five you decide to try, be sure to bring friends and family along with you because you’re not going to want them to miss these delights.
Stay tuned for part two of Smile Politely's wing adventure.
All photos by Brian Plotner.